Much of work as we knew it has gone. And that's a good thing.
COVID-19 has forced many organisations to embrace progressive, empowering new work practices. Rather than rushing back to ‘normal’, we now have an extraordinary opportunity to look at what’s succeeded during lockdown and apply it to reimagine our workforces and workplaces as restrictions ease. In this new reality, we can become truly human centric.
Workforce as a community – not just as job titles
In the past, people strategies were often applied by rank or business unit. In 2020, lockdown created a new set of categories: parents home-schooling; people living alone; Gen Zs living with their families; carers. Each of these groups needed different types of support to sustain productivity and wellbeing – and companies rallied to the cause.
Dedicated channels were set up where exhausted parents could lean on each other emotionally and share teaching resources. At EY, we partnered with educators and rolled out an online vacation program for kids of different ages. Leaders were encouraged to ask after and support those whose carer responsibilities or health situation restricted their ability to work.
Meanwhile, online forums emerged to combat loneliness and wellbeing check-ins sprang up, with managers keeping a special eye on those doing lockdown by themselves. We figured out new ways to help people feel connected, safe and valued.
What we were doing was thinking about our employees as individuals and making allowances for their human needs. As a result, most office-based companies across Australia flexed work to fit the shape of people’s lives where possible – rather than the other way around.
We need to keep doing this as we move out of recovery - starting with the person and their needs and preferences, considering work in a way that fits them. It’s a wellbeing and productivity opportunity well worth continued exploration.
Before COVID-19, only a third of our workforce was working flexibly, with a tiny proportion working from home. There was a prevailing view in many quarters that work can only be done in the office; and that people will slack off if you let them work from home. New technologies, human ingenuity and the extraordinary achievements of hundreds of thousands of Australians in lockdown have proved conclusively that those old-fashioned notions don’t hold true for many roles.